Shabu Shabu Toki
Marc and I went out on a date on Friday night, which is something we’ve been trying to focus on a little more lately. We have been all too happy to be homebodies, and we need to get out in the world, and be young and fun — and see movies and eat good food, too. This week, we decided to do a traditional dinner-and-a-movie date, and went to Shabu Shabu Toki in Allston, followed by a viewing of Crazy Heart, at the Kendall Theatre. (Have you seen it? You should see it … it was great.)
Shabu Shabu Toki is a relatively new restaurant in Allston, directly across the street from the Sunset, one of our favorite places. It’s trendy, decorated in tones of red, black and rich brown. Each table is big and comfortable and fitted with a cooktop, so that you can easily order shabu shabu or sukiyaki, if you’d like.
Shabu shabu is the Japanese variation of hot-pot, or fondue, where you cook the meat by “swishing” it in the broth. When ordering at Shabu Shabu Toki, you order meat which is raw and thinly sliced. You choose a broth to cook in, and two types of dipping sauce, for eating with your meat once it is cooked. Each order comes with a plate of vegetables, tofu and noodles to cook with the meat, as well as a dish of rice or noodles to eat on the side. Shabu Shabu Toki offers a wide variety of meats, including duck, chicken, pork and a huge variety of beef, including expensive and rare cuts of beef (some of which are priced up to $49/serving).
We kept it in the poultry family. Marc chose duck and I got chicken. You could get, at no cost, a clear fish broth to cook the meat in, but they had (for $3 extra), more “adventurous” broths to cook in. Marc selected the Japanese Curry Broth, while I got the Tom Yum Broth, which was VERY VERY VERY spicy (and I am a huge lover of Tom Yum anything — but this really kicked my behind). After awhile, we ended up cooking our meat and veggies in the curry broth, because the Tom Yum was just way too spicy.
Though the food was all really fresh, and the cuts of meat were quite elegant, Marc and I both felt a little frustrated with this dining experience. People who know us (or really, who read this blog) know that we are anything but picky eaters. We have never had an issue with any cuisine, any type of food…anything, really. But there was something about this meal that felt frustrating. First of all, the cost of the dinner was pretty exorbitant for what it was. I kept thinking to myself that my dish cost around $18 (total, including broth and food), and nothing was really cooked. We did it all ourselves, which, granted, is the “experience,” but it felt like a high price to pay for something that didn’t take terribly much preparation. I actually said to Marc that it bothered me that we were paying about the same price that we would for a pretty decent (and somewhat fancy) meal at a more upscale restaurant. It’s a bummer to spend the money, but not feel satisfied with what you eat.
Secondly, it was frustrating because it was messy — tiny cuts of meat and loose noodles and vegetables can really get lost in a pot of boiling liquid! And when you’re dealing with chopsticks instead of fondue skewers, if you lose your grip, you lose your food. (Yes, there are spoons available to fish it out, but it’s not super easy.)
Third, the pan-Asian flavors of the broth didn’t quite seem to jive with the Japanese theme. Tom Yum is a traditional Thai flavor, and though it’s fine with me to eat Asian fusion, it was hard to select a dipping sauce that would complement the cooking broth. I was disappointed in my selections, though I made them to support the flavors of the broth. It would have been nice to have some suggestions from the waitstaff, as to what would be a more “traditional” broth and sauce selection for trying shabu shabu for the first time.
All in all, I’m not racing to try shabu shabu again at any point, and probably wouldn’t go back to Shabu Shabu Toki — at least not for the price. It’s got a really trendy vibe, and if you’re into trying something new — and if you dig places like The Melting Pot — then this is the restaurant for you. If you aren’t in the mood to cook your own food on a night out, I’d take a pass.